Brief History of English and American Literature
by Henry A. Beers
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Hawthorne was no transcendentalist. He dwelt {470} much in a world of ideas, and he sometimes doubted whether the tree on the bank or its image in the stream were the more real. But this had little in common with the philosophical idealism of his neighbors. He reverenced Emerson, and he held kindly intercourse—albeit a silent man and easily bored—with Thoreau and Ellery Channing, and even with Margaret Fuller. But his sharp eyes saw whatever was whimsical or weak in the apostles of the new faith. He had little enthusiasm for causes or reforms, and among so many Abolitionists he remained a Democrat, and even wrote a campaign life of his friend Pierce.

The village of Concord has perhaps done more for American literature than the city of New York. Certainly there are few places where associations, both patriotic and poetic, cluster so thickly. At one side of the grounds of the Old Manse—which has the river at its back—runs down a shaded lane to the Concord monument and the figure of the Minute Man and the successor of "the rude bridge that arched the flood." Scarce two miles away, among the woods, is little Walden—"God's drop." The men who made Concord famous are asleep in Sleepy Hollow, yet still their memory prevails to draw seekers after truth to the Concord Summer School of Philosophy, which meets every year, to reason high of "God, Freedom, and Immortality," next-door to the "Wayside," and under the hill on whose ridge Hawthorne wore a path, as he paced up and down beneath the hemlocks.


1. Ralph Waldo Emerson. Nature. The American Scholar. Literary Ethics. The Transcendentalist. The Over-soul. Address before the Cambridge Divinity School. English Traits. Representative Men. Poems.

2. Henry David Thoreau. Excursions. Walden. A Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers. Cape Cod. The Maine Woods.

3. Nathaniel Hawthorne. Mosses from an Old Manse. The Scarlet Letter. The House of the Seven Gables. The Blithedale Romance. The Marble Faun. Our Old Home.

4. Transcendentalism in New England. By O. B. Frothingham. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. 1875.

[1] The Indian name of Concord River.





With few exceptions, the men who have made American literature what it is have been college graduates. And yet our colleges have not commonly been, in themselves, literary centers. Most of them have been small and poor, and situated in little towns or provincial cities. Their alumni scatter far and wide immediately after graduation, and even those of them who may feel drawn to a life of scholarship or letters find little to attract them at the home of their alma mater, and seek, by preference, the large cities where periodicals and publishing houses offer some hope of support in a literary career. Even in the older and better equipped universities the faculty is usually a corps of working scholars, each man intent upon his specialty and rather inclined to undervalue merely "literary" performance. In many cases the fastidious and hypercritical turn of mind which besets the scholar, the timid conservatism which naturally characterizes an ancient seat of learning and the spirit of theological conformity which suppresses free discussion have exerted their {473} benumbing influence upon the originality and creative impulse of their inmates. Hence it happens that, while the contributions of American college teachers to the exact sciences, to theology and philology, metaphysics, political philosophy and the severer branches of learning have been honorable and important, they have as a class made little mark upon the general literature of the country. The professors of literature in our colleges are usually persons who have made no additions to literature, and the professors of rhetoric seem ordinarily to have been selected to teach students how to write, for the reason that they themselves have never written any thing that any one has ever read.

To these remarks the Harvard College of some fifty years ago offers a striking exception. It was not the large and fashionable university that it has lately grown to be, with its multiplied elective courses, its numerous faculty and its somewhat motley collection of undergraduates; but a small school of the classics and mathematics, with something of ethics, natural science and the modern languages added to its old-fashioned, scholastic curriculum, and with a very homogeneous clientele, drawn mainly from the Unitarian families of Eastern Massachusetts. Nevertheless a finer intellectual life, in many respects, was lived at old Cambridge within the years covered by this chapter than nowadays at the same place, or at any date in any other American university town. The {474} neighborhood of Boston, where the commercial life has never so entirely overlain the intellectual as in New York and Philadelphia, has been a standing advantage to Harvard College. The recent upheaval in religious thought had secured toleration, and made possible that free and even audacious interchange of ideas without which a literary atmosphere is impossible. From these, or from whatever causes, it happened that the old Harvard scholarship had an elegant and tasteful side to it, so that the dry erudition of the schools blossomed into a generous culture, and there were men in the professors' chairs who were no less efficient as teachers because they were also poets, orators, wits and men of the world. In the seventeen years from 1821 to 1839 there were graduated from Harvard College Emerson, Holmes, Sumner, Phillips, Motley, Thoreau, Lowell, and Edward Everett Hale, some of whom took up their residence at Cambridge, others at Boston and others at Concord, which was quite as much a spiritual suburb of Boston as Cambridge was. In 1836, when Longfellow became Professor of Modern Languages at Harvard, Sumner was lecturing in the Law School. The following year—in which Thoreau took his bachelor's degree—witnessed the delivery of Emerson's Phi Beta Kappa lecture on the American Scholar in the college chapel and Wendell Phillips's speech on the Murder of Lovejoy in Faneuil Hall. Lowell, whose description of the impression produced by {475} the former of these famous addresses has been quoted in a previous chapter, was an undergraduate at the time. He took his degree in 1838 and in 1855 succeeded Longfellow in the chair of Modern Languages. Holmes had been chosen in 1847 Professor of Anatomy and Physiology in the Medical School—a position which he held until 1882. The historians, Prescott and Bancroft, had been graduated in 1814 and 1817 respectively. The former's first important publication, Ferdinand and Isabella, appeared in 1837. Bancroft had been a tutor in the college in 1822-23 and the initial volume of his History of the United States was issued in 1835. Another of the Massachusetts school of historical writers, Francis Parkman, took his first degree at Harvard in 1844. Cambridge was still hardly more than a village, a rural outskirt of Boston, such as Lowell described it in his article, Cambridge Thirty Years Ago, originally contributed to Putnam's Monthly in 1853, and afterward reprinted in his Fireside Travels, 1864. The situation of a university scholar in old Cambridge was thus an almost ideal one. Within easy reach of a great city, with its literary and social clubs, its theaters, lecture courses, public meetings, dinner parties, etc., he yet lived withdrawn in an academic retirement among elm-shaded avenues and leafy gardens, the dome of the Boston State-house looming distantly across the meadows where the Charles laid its "steel blue sickle" upon the variegated, plush-like ground of the wide marsh. There was {476} thus, at all times during the quarter of a century embraced between 1837 and 1861, a group of brilliant men resident in or about Cambridge and Boston, meeting frequently and intimately, and exerting upon one another a most stimulating influence. Some of the closer circles—all concentric to the university—of which this group was loosely composed were laughed at by outsiders as "Mutual Admiration Societies." Such was, for instance, the "Five of Clubs," whose members were Longfellow, Sumner, C. C. Tellon, Professor of Greek at Harvard, and afterward president of the college; G. S. Hillard, a graceful lecturer, essayist and poet, of a somewhat amateurish kind; and Henry R. Cleveland, of Jamaica Plain, a lover of books and a writer of them.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) the most widely read and loved of American poets—or indeed, of all contemporary poets in England and America—though identified with Cambridge for nearly fifty years was a native of Portland, Maine, and a graduate of Bowdoin College, in the same class with Hawthorne. Since leaving college, in 1825, he had studied and traveled for some years in Europe, and had held the professorship of modern languages at Bowdoin. He had published several text books, a number of articles on the Romance languages and literatures in the North American Review, a thin volume of metrical translations from the Spanish, a few original poems in various periodicals, and the pleasant sketches of European {477} travel entitled Outre Mer. But Longfellow's fame began with the appearance in 1839 of his Voices of the Night. Excepting an earlier collection by Bryant this was the first volume of real poetry published in New England, and it had more warmth and sweetness, a greater richness and variety than Bryant's work ever possessed. Longfellow's genius was almost feminine in its flexibility and its sympathetic quality. It readily took the color of its surroundings and opened itself eagerly to impressions of the beautiful from every quarter, but especially from books. This first volume contained a few things written during his student days at Bowdoin, one of which, a blank verse piece on Autumn, clearly shows the influence of Bryant's Thanatopsis. Most of these juvenilia had nature for their theme, but they were not so sternly true to the New England landscape as Thoreau or Bryant. The skylark and the ivy appear among their scenic properties, and in the best of them, Woods in Winter, it is the English "hawthorn" and not any American tree, through which the gale is made to blow, just as later Longfellow uses "rooks" instead of crows. The young poet's fancy was instinctively putting out feelers toward the storied lands of the Old World, and in his Hymn of the Moravian Nuns of Bethlehem he transformed the rude church of the Moravian sisters to a cathedral with "glimmering tapers," swinging censers, chancel, altar, cowls and "dim mysterious aisle." After his visit to Europe, {478} Longfellow returned deeply imbued with the spirit of romance. It was his mission to refine our national taste by opening to American readers, in their own vernacular, new springs of beauty in the literatures of foreign tongues. The fact that this mission was interpretative, rather than creative, hardly detracts from Longfellow's true originality. It merely indicates that his inspiration came to him in the first instance from other sources than the common life about him. He naturally began as a translator, and this first volume contained, among other things, exquisite renderings from the German of Uhland, Salis, and Mueller, from the Danish, French, Spanish and Anglo-Saxon, and a few passages from Dante. Longfellow remained all his life a translator, and in subtler ways than by direct translation he infused the fine essence of European poetry into his own. He loved—

"Tales that have the rime of age And chronicles of eld."

The golden light of romance is shed upon his page, and it is his habit to borrow mediaeval and Catholic imagery from his favorite middle ages, even when writing of American subjects. To him the clouds are hooded friars, that "tell their beads in drops of rain;" the midnight winds blowing through woods and mountain passes are chanting solemn masses for the repose of the dying year, and the strain ends with the prayer—

"Kyrie, eleyson, Christe, eleyson."

{479} In his journal he wrote characteristically: "The black shadows lie upon the grass like engravings in a book. Autumn has written his rubric on the illuminated leaves, the wind turns them over and chants like a friar." This in Cambridge, of a moonshiny night, on the first day of the American October. But several of the pieces in Voices of the Night sprang more immediately from the poet's own inner experience. The Hymn to the Night, the Psalm of Life, the Reaper and the Flowers, Footsteps of Angels, the Light of Stars, and the Beleaguered City spoke of love, bereavement, comfort, patience and faith. In these lovely songs and in many others of the same kind which he afterward wrote, Longfellow touched the hearts of all his countrymen. America is a country of homes, and Longfellow, as the poet of sentiment and of the domestic affections, became and remains far more general in his appeal than such a "cosmic" singer as Whitman, who is still practically unknown to the "fierce democracy" to which he has addressed himself. It would be hard to over-estimate the influence for good exerted by the tender feeling and the pure and sweet morality which the hundreds of thousands of copies of Longfellow's writings, that have been circulated among readers of all classes in America and England, have brought with them.

Three later collections, Ballads and Other Poems, 1842; the Belfry of Bruges, 1846; and the Seaside and the Fireside, 1850, comprise most of what is {480} noteworthy in Longfellow's minor poetry. The first of these embraced, together with some renderings from the German and the Scandinavian languages, specimens of stronger original work than the author had yet put forth; namely, the two powerful ballads of the Skeleton in Armor and the Wreck of the Hesperus. The former of these, written in the swift leaping meter of Drayton's Ode to the Cambro Britons on their Harp, was suggested by the digging up of a mail-clad skeleton at Fall River—a circumstance which the poet linked with the traditions about the Round Tower at Newport and gave to the whole the spirit of a Norse viking song of war and of the sea. The Wreck of the Hesperus was occasioned by the news of shipwrecks on the coast near Gloucester and by the name of a reef—"Norman's Woe"—where many of them took place. It was written one night between twelve and three, and cost the poet, he said, "hardly an effort." Indeed, it is the spontaneous ease and grace, the unfailing taste of Longfellow's lines, which are their best technical quality. There is nothing obscure or esoteric about his poetry. If there is little passion or intellectual depth, there is always genuine poetic feeling, often a very high order of imagination and almost invariably the choice of the right word. In this volume were also included the Village Blacksmith and Excelsior. The latter, and the Psalm of Life, have had a "damnable iteration" which causes them to figure as Longfellow's most popular {481} pieces. They are by no means, however, among his best. They are vigorously expressed commonplaces of that hortatory kind which passes for poetry, but is, in reality, a vague species of preaching.

In the Belfry of Bruges and the Seaside and the Fireside, the translations were still kept up, and among the original pieces were the Occultation of Orion—the most imaginative of all Longfellow's poems; Seaweed, which has very noble stanzas, the favorite Old Clock on the Stairs, the Building of the Ship, with its magnificent closing apostrophe to the Union, and the Fire of Driftwood, the subtlest in feeling of any thing that the poet ever wrote. With these were verses of a more familiar quality, such as the Bridge, Resignation, and the Day Is Done, and many others, all reflecting moods of gentle and pensive sentiment, and drawing from analogies in nature or in legend lessons which, if somewhat obvious, were expressed with perfect art. Like Keats, he apprehended every thing on its beautiful side. Longfellow was all poet. Like Ophelia in Hamlet,

"Thought and affection, passion, hell itself, He turns to favor and to prettiness."

He cared very little about the intellectual movement of the age. The transcendental ideas of Emerson passed over his head and left him undisturbed. For politics he had that gentlemanly distaste which the cultivated class in America had {482} already begun to entertain. In 1842 he printed a small volume of Poems on Slavery, which drew commendation from his friend Sumner, but had nothing of the fervor of Whittier's or Lowell's utterances on the same subject. It is interesting to compare his journals with Hawthorne's American Note Books and to observe in what very different ways the two writers made prey of their daily experiences for literary material. A favorite haunt of Longfellow's was the bridge between Boston and Cambridgeport, the same which he put into verse in his poem, the Bridge. "I always stop on the bridge," he writes in his journal; "tide waters are beautiful. From the ocean up into the land they go, like messengers, to ask why the tribute has not been paid. The brooks and rivers answer that there has been little harvest of snow and rain this year. Floating sea-weed and kelp is carried up into the meadows, as returning sailors bring oranges in bandanna handkerchiefs to friends in the country." And again: "We leaned for awhile on the wooden rail and enjoyed the silvery reflection on the sea, making sundry comparisons. Among other thoughts we had this cheering one, that the whole sea was flashing with this heavenly light, though we saw it only in a single track; the dark waves are the dark providences of God; luminous, though not to us; and even to ourselves in another position." "Walk on the bridge, both ends of which are lost in the fog, like human life midway between two eternities; {483} beginning and ending in mist." In Hawthorne an allegoric meaning is usually something deeper and subtler than this, and seldom so openly expressed. Many of Longfellow's poems—the Beleaguered City, for example—may be definitely divided into two parts; in the first, a story is told or a natural phenomenon described; in the second, the spiritual application of the parable is formally set forth. This method became with him almost a trick of style, and his readers learned to look for the haec fabula docet at the end as a matter of course. As for the prevailing optimism in Longfellow's view of life—of which the above passage is an instance—it seemed to be in him an affair of temperament, and not, as in Emerson, the result of philosophic insight. Perhaps, however, in the last analysis optimism and pessimism are subjective—the expression of temperament or individual experience, since the facts of life are the same, whether seen through Schopenhauer's eyes or through Emerson's. If there is any particular in which Longfellow's inspiration came to him at first hand and not through books, it is in respect to the aspects of the sea. On this theme no American poet has written more beautifully and with a keener sympathy than the author of the Wreck of the Hesperus and of Seaweed.

In 1847 was published the long poem of Evangeline. The story of the Acadian peasant girl, who was separated from her lover in the dispersion of her people by the English troops, and after weary wanderings and a life-long search found him at last, {484} an old man dying in a Philadelphia hospital, was told to Longfellow by the Rev. H. L. Conolly, who had previously suggested it to Hawthorne as a subject for a story. Longfellow, characteristically enough, "got up" the local color for his poem from Haliburton's account of the dispersion of the Grand-Pre Acadians, from Darby's Geographical Description of Louisiana and Watson's Annals of Philadelphia. He never needed to go much outside of his library for literary impulse and material. Whatever may be held as to Longfellow's inventive powers as a creator of characters or an interpreter of American life, his originality as an artist is manifested by his successful domestication in Evangeline of the dactylic hexameter, which no English poet had yet used with effect. The English poet, Arthur Hugh Clough, who lived for a time in Cambridge, followed Longfellow's example in the use of hexameter in his Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich, so that we have now arrived at the time—a proud moment for American letters—when the works of our writers began to react upon the literature of Europe. But the beauty of the descriptions in Evangeline and the pathos—somewhat too drawn out—of the story made it dear to a multitude of readers who cared nothing about the technical disputes of Poe and other critics as to whether or not Longfellow's lines were sufficiently "spondaic" to truthfully represent the quantitative hexameters of Homer and Vergil.

In 1855 appeared Hiawatha, Longfellow's most {485} aboriginal and "American" book. The tripping trochaic measure he borrowed from the Finnish epic Kalevala. The vague, childlike mythology of the Indian tribes, with its anthropomorphic sense of the brotherhood between men, animals, and the forms of inanimate nature, he took from Schoolcraft's Algic Researches, 1839. He fixed forever, in a skillfully chosen poetic form, the more inward and imaginative part of Indian character, as Cooper had given permanence to its external and active side. Of Longfellow's dramatic experiments the Golden Legend, 1851, alone deserves mention here. This was in his chosen realm; a tale taken from the ecclesiastical annals of the middle ages, precious with martyrs' blood and bathed in the rich twilight of the cloister. It contains some of his best work, but its merit is rather poetic than dramatic; although Ruskin praised it for the closeness with which it entered into the temper of the monk.

Longfellow has pleased the people more than the critics. He gave freely what he had, and the gift was beautiful. Those who have looked in his poetry for something else than poetry, or for poetry of some other kind, have not been slow to assert that he was a lady's poet; one who satisfied callow youths and school-girls by uttering commonplaces in graceful and musical shape, but who offered no strong meat for men. Miss Fuller called his poetry thin and the poet himself a "dandy Pindar." This is not true of his poetry, {486} or of the best of it. But he had a singing and not a talking voice, and in his prose one becomes sensible of a certain weakness. Hyperion, for example, published in 1839, a loitering fiction, interspersed with descriptions of European travel, is, upon the whole, a weak book, over flowery in diction and sentimental in tone.

The crown of Longfellow's achievements as a translator was his great version of Dante's Divina Commedia, published between 1867 and 1870. It is a severely literal, almost a line for line, rendering. The meter is preserved, but the rhyme sacrificed. If not the best English poem constructed from Dante, it is at all events the most faithful and scholarly paraphrase. The sonnets which accompanied it are among Longfellow's best work. He seems to have been raised by daily communion with the great Tuscan into a habit of deeper and more subtle thought than is elsewhere common in his poetry.

Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809- ) is a native of Cambridge and a graduate of Harvard in the class of '29; a class whose anniversary reunions he has celebrated in something like forty distinct poems and songs. For sheer cleverness and versatility Dr. Holmes is, perhaps, unrivaled among American men of letters. He has been poet, wit, humorist, novelist, essayist and a college lecturer and writer on medical topics. In all of these departments he has produced work which ranks high, if not with the highest. His father, {487} Dr. Abiel Holmes, was a graduate of Yale and an orthodox minister of liberal temper, but the son early threw in his lot with the Unitarians; and, as was natural to a man of a satiric turn and with a very human enjoyment of a fight, whose youth was cast in an age of theological controversy, he has always had his fling at Calvinism and has prolonged the slogans of old battles into a later generation; sometimes, perhaps, insisting upon them rather wearisomely and beyond the limits of good taste. He had, even as an undergraduate, a reputation for cleverness at writing comic verses, and many of his good things in this kind, such as the Dorchester Giant and the Height of the Ridiculous, were contributed to the Collegian, a students' paper. But he first drew the attention of a wider public by his spirited ballad of Old Ironsides

"Ay! Tear her tattered ensign down!"—

composed about 1830, when it was proposed by the government to take to pieces the unseaworthy hulk of the famous old man-of-war, "Constitution." Holmes's indignant protest—which has been a favorite subject for school-boy declamation—had the effect of postponing the vessel's fate for a great many years. From 1830-35 the young poet was pursuing his medical studies in Boston and Paris, contributing now and then some verses to the magazines. Of his life as a medical student in Paris there are many pleasant reminiscences in his Autocrat and other writings, as where he tells, for {488} instance, of a dinner party of Americans in the French capital, where one of the company brought tears of home-sickness into the eyes of his sodales by saying that the tinkle of the ice in the champagne-glasses reminded him of the cowbells in the rocky old pastures of New England. In 1836 he printed his first collection of poems. The volume contained among a number of pieces broadly comic, like the September Gale, the Music Grinders, and the Ballad of the Oysterman—which at once became widely popular—a few poems of a finer and quieter temper, in which there was a quaint blending of the humorous and the pathetic. Such were My Aunt and the Last Leaf—which Abraham Lincoln found "inexpressibly touching," and which it is difficult to read without the double tribute of a smile and a tear. The volume contained also Poetry: A Metrical Essay, read before the Harvard Chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, which was the first of that long line of capital occasional poems which Holmes has been spinning for half a century with no sign of fatigue and with scarcely any falling off in freshness; poems read or spoken or sung at all manner of gatherings, public and private; at Harvard commencements, class days, and other academic anniversaries; at inaugurations, centennials, dedications of cemeteries, meetings of medical associations, mercantile libraries, Burns clubs and New England societies; at rural festivals and city fairs; openings of theaters, layings of corner stones, {489} birthday celebrations, jubilees, funerals, commemoration services, dinners of welcome or farewell to Dickens, Bryant, Everett, Whittier, Longfellow, Grant, Farragut, the Grand Duke Alexis, the Chinese Embassy and what not. Probably no poet of any age or clime has written so much and so well to order. He has been particularly happy in verses of a convivial kind, toasts for big civic feasts, or post-prandial rhymes for the petit comite—the snug little dinners of the chosen few. His

"The quaint trick to cram the pithy line That cracks so crisply over bubbling wine."

And although he could write on occasion a Song for a Temperance Dinner, he has preferred to chant the praise of the punch bowl and to

"feel the old convivial glow (unaided) o'er me stealing, The warm, champagny, old-particular-brandy-punchy feeling."

It would be impossible to enumerate the many good things of this sort which Holmes has written, full of wit and wisdom, and of humor lightly dashed with sentiment and sparkling with droll analogies, sudden puns, and unexpected turns of rhyme and phrase. Among the best of them are Nux Postcoenatica, A Modest Request, Ode for a Social Meeting, The Boys, and Rip Van Winkle, M.D. Holmes's favorite measure, in his longer poems, is the heroic couplet which Pope's example seems to have consecrated forever to satiric and didactic verse. He writes as easily in this {490} meter as if it were prose, and with much of Pope's epigrammatic neatness. He also manages with facility the anapaestics of Moore and the ballad stanza which Hood had made the vehicle for his drolleries. It cannot be expected that verses manufactured to pop with the corks and fizz with the champagne at academic banquets should much outlive the occasion; or that the habit of producing such verses on demand should foster in the producer that "high seriousness" which Matthew Arnold asserts to be one mark of all great poetry. Holmes's poetry is mostly on the colloquial level, excellent society-verse, but even in its serious moments too smart and too pretty to be taken very gravely; with a certain glitter, knowingness and flippancy about it and an absence of that self-forgetfulness and intense absorption in its theme which characterize the work of the higher imagination. This is rather the product of fancy and wit. Wit, indeed, in the old sense of quickness in the perception of analogies is the staple of his mind. His resources in the way of figure, illustration, allusion and anecdote are wonderful. Age cannot wither him nor custom stale his infinite variety, and there is as much powder in his latest pyrotechnics as in the rockets which he sent up half a century ago. Yet, though the humorist in him rather outweighs the poet, he has written a few things, like the Chambered Nautilus and Homesick in Heaven, which are as purely and deeply poetic as the One-Hoss Shay and the Prologue are funny. {491} Dr. Holmes is not of the stuff of which idealists and enthusiasts are made. As a physician and a student of science, the facts of the material universe have counted for much with him. His clear, positive, alert intellect was always impatient of mysticism. He had the sharp eye of the satirist and the man of the world for oddities of dress, dialect and manners. Naturally the transcendental movement struck him on its ludicrous side, and in his After-Dinner Poem, read at the Phi Beta Kappa dinner at Cambridge in 1843, he had his laugh at the "Orphic odes" and "runes" of the bedlamite seer and bard of mystery

"Who rides a beetle which he calls a 'sphinx,' And O what questions asked in club-foot rhyme Of Earth the tongueless, and the deaf-mute Time! Here babbling 'Insight' shouts in Nature's ears His last conundrum on the orbs and spheres; There Self-inspection sucks its little thumb, With 'Whence am I?' and 'Wherefore did I come?'"

Curiously enough, the author of these lines lived to write an appreciative life of the poet who wrote the Sphinx. There was a good deal of toryism or social conservatism in Holmes. He acknowledged a preference for the man with a pedigree, the man who owned family portraits, had been brought up in familiarity with books, and could pronounce "view" correctly. Readers unhappily not of the "Brahmin caste of New England" have sometimes resented as snobbishness Holmes's harping {492} on "family," and his perpetual application of certain favorite shibboleths to other people's ways of speech. "The woman who calc'lates is lost."

"Learning condemns beyond the reach of hope The careless lips that speak of soap for soap. . . . Do put your accents in the proper spot; Don't, let me beg you, don't say 'How?' for 'What?' The things named 'pants' in certain documents, A word not made for gentlemen, but 'gents.'"

With the rest of "society" he was disposed to ridicule the abolition movement as a crotchet of the eccentric and the long-haired. But when the civil war broke out he lent his pen, his tongue, and his own flesh and blood to the cause of the Union. The individuality of Holmes's writings comes in part from their local and provincial bias. He has been the laureate of Harvard College and the bard of Boston city, an urban poet, with a cockneyish fondness for old Boston ways and things—the Common and the Frog Pond, Faneuil Hall and King's Chapel and the Old South, Bunker Hill, Long Wharf, the Tea Party, and the town crier. It was Holmes who invented the playful saying that "Boston State House is the hub of the solar system."

In 1857 was started the Atlantic Monthly, a magazine which has published a good share of the best work done by American writers within the past thirty years. Its immediate success was assured by Dr. Holmes's brilliant series of papers, the {493} Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, 1858, followed at once by the Professor at the Breakfast Table, 1859, and later by the Poet at the Breakfast Table, 1873. The Autocrat is its author's masterpiece, and holds the fine quintessence of his humor, his scholarship, his satire, genial observation, and ripe experience of men and cities. The form is as unique and original as the contents, being something between an essay and a drama; a succession of monologues or table-talks at a typical American boarding-house, with a thread of story running through the whole. The variety of mood and thought is so great that these conversations never tire, and the prose is interspersed with some of the author's choicest verse. The Professor at the Breakfast Table followed too closely on the heels of the Autocrat, and had less freshness. The third number of the series was better, and was pleasantly reminiscent and slightly garrulous, Dr. Holmes being now (1873) sixty-four years old, and entitled to the gossiping privilege of age. The personnel of the Breakfast Table series, such as the landlady and the landlady's daughter and her son, Benjamin Franklin; the schoolmistress, the young man named John, the Divinity Student, the Kohinoor, the Sculpin, the Scarabaeus and the Old Gentleman who sits opposite, are not fully drawn characters, but outlined figures, lightly sketched—as is the Autocrat's wont—by means of some trick of speech, or dress, or feature, but they are quite life-like enough for their purpose, which is mainly to {494} furnish listeners and foils to the eloquence and wit of the chief talker.

In 1860 and 1867 Holmes entered the field of fiction with two "medicated novels," Elsie Venner and the Guardian Angel. The first of these was a singular tale, whose heroine united with her very fascinating human attributes something of the nature of a serpent; her mother having been bitten by a rattlesnake a few months before the birth of the girl, and kept alive meanwhile by the use of powerful antidotes. The heroine of the Guardian Angel inherited lawless instincts from a vein of Indian blood in her ancestry. These two books were studies of certain medico-psychological problems. They preached Dr. Holmes's favorite doctrines of heredity and of the modified nature of moral responsibility by reason of transmitted tendencies which limit the freedom of the will. In Elsie Venner, in particular, the weirdly imaginative and speculative character of the leading motive suggests Hawthorne's method in fiction, but the background and the subsidiary figures have a realism that is in abrupt contrast with this, and gives a kind of doubleness and want of keeping to the whole. The Yankee characters, in particular, and the satirical pictures of New England country life are open to the charge of caricature. In the Guardian Angel the figure of Byles Gridley, the old scholar, is drawn with thorough sympathy, and though some of his acts are improbable he is, on the whole, Holmes's most {495} vital conception in the region of dramatic creation.

James Russell Lowell (1819- ), the foremost of American critics and of living American poets is, like Holmes, a native of Cambridge, and, like Emerson and Holmes, a clergyman's son. In 1855 he succeeded Longfellow as Professor of Modern Languages in Harvard College. Of late years he has held important diplomatic posts, like Everett, Irving, Bancroft, Motley, and other Americans distinguished in letters, having been United States Minister to Spain, and, under two administrations, to the Court of St. James. Lowell is not so spontaneously and exclusively a poet as Longfellow. His fame has been of slower growth, and his popularity with the average reader has never been so great. His appeal has been to the few rather than the many, to an audience of scholars and of the judicious rather than to the "groundlings" of the general public. Nevertheless his verse, though without the evenness, instinctive grace, and unerring good taste of Longfellow's, has more energy and a stronger intellectual fiber; while in prose he is very greatly the superior. His first volume, A Year's Life, 1841, gave little promise. In 1843 he started a magazine, the Pioneer, which only reached its third number, though it counted among its contributors Hawthorne, Poe, Whittier, and Miss Barrett (afterward Mrs. Browning). A second volume of poems, printed in 1844, showed a distinct advance, in such {496} pieces as the Shepherd of King Admetus, Rhoecus, a classical myth, told in excellent blank verse, and the same in subject with one of Landor's polished intaglios; and the Legend of Britanny, a narrative poem, which had fine passages, but no firmness in the management of the story. As yet, it was evident, the young poet had not found his theme. This came with the outbreak of the Mexican War, which was unpopular in New England, and which the Free Soil party regarded as a slaveholders' war waged without provocation against a sister republic, and simply for the purpose of extending the area of slavery.

In 1846, accordingly, the Biglow Papers began to appear in the Boston Courier, and were collected and published in book form in 1848. These were a series of rhymed satires upon the government and the war party, written in the Yankee dialect, and supposed to be the work of Hosea Biglow, a home-spun genius in a down-east country town, whose letters to the editor were indorsed and accompanied by the comments of the Rev. Homer Wilbur, A.M., pastor of the First Church in Jaalam, and (prospective) member of many learned societies. The first paper was a derisive address to a recruiting sergeant, with a denunciation of the "nigger-drivin' States" and the "northern dough-faces," a plain hint that the North would do better to secede than to continue doing dirty work for the South, and an expression of those universal peace doctrines which were then in the air, and to which {497} Longfellow gave serious utterance in his Occultation of Orion.

"Ez for war, I call it murder— There you hev it plain an' flat: I don't want to go no furder Than my Testyment for that; God hez said so plump an' fairly, It's ez long as it is broad, An' you've gut to git up airly Ef you want to take in God."

The second number was a versified paraphrase of a letter received from Mr. Birdofredom Sawin, "a yung feller of our town that wuz cussed fool enuff to goe atrottin inter Miss Chiff arter a drum and fife," and who finds when he gets to Mexico that

"This kind o' sogerin' aint a mite like our October trainin'."

Of the subsequent papers the best was, perhaps, What Mr. Robinson Thinks, an election ballad, which caused universal laughter, and was on every body's tongue.

The Biglow Papers remain Lowell's most original contribution to American literature. They are, all in all, the best political satires in the language, and unequaled as portraitures of the Yankee character, with its 'cuteness, its homely wit, and its latent poetry. Under the racy humor of the dialect—which became in Lowell's hands a medium of literary expression almost as effective as {498} Burns's Ayrshire Scotch—burned that moral enthusiasm and that hatred of wrong and deification of duty—"Stern daughter of the voice of God"—which, in the tough New England stock, stands instead of the passion in the blood of southern races. Lowell's serious poems on political questions, such as the Present Crisis, Ode to Freedom, and the Capture of Fugitive Slaves, have the old Puritan fervor, and such lines as

"They are slaves who dare not be In the right with two or three,"

and the passage beginning

"Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,"

became watchwords in the conflict against slavery and disunion. Some of these were published in his volume of 1848 and the collected edition of his poems, in two volumes, issued in 1850. These also included his most ambitious narrative poem, the Vision of Sir Launfal, an allegorical and spiritual treatment of one of the legends of the Holy Grail. Lowell's genius was not epical, but lyric and didactic. The merit of Sir Launfal is not in the telling of the story, but in the beautiful descriptive episodes, one of which, commencing,

"And what is so rare as a day in June? Then if ever come perfect days;"

is as current as any thing that he has written. It is significant of the lack of a natural impulse {499} toward narrative invention in Lowell, that, unlike Longfellow and Holmes, he never tried his hand at a novel. One of the most important parts of a novelist's equipment he certainly possesses; namely, an insight into character, and an ability to delineate it. This gift is seen especially in his sketch of Parson Wilbur, who edited the Biglow Papers with a delightfully pedantic introduction, glossary, and notes; in the prose essay On a Certain Condescension in Foreigners, and in the uncompleted poem, Fitz-Adam's Story. See also the sketch of Captain Underhill in the essay on New England Two Centuries Ago.

The Biglow Papers when brought out in a volume were prefaced by imaginary notices of the press, including a capital parody of Carlyle, and a reprint from the "Jaalam Independent Blunderbuss," of the first sketch—afterward amplified and enriched—of that perfect Yankee idyl, the Courtin'. Between 1862 and 1865 a second series of Biglow Papers appeared, called out by the events of the civil war. Some of these, as, for instance, Jonathan to John, a remonstrance with England for her unfriendly attitude toward the North, were not inferior to any thing in the earlier series; and others were even superior as poems, equal indeed, in pathos and intensity to any thing that Lowell has written in his professedly serious verse. In such passages the dialect wears rather thin, and there is a certain incongruity between the rustic spelling and the vivid beauty and power {500} and the figurative cast of the phrase in stanzas like the following:

"Wut's words to them whose faith an' truth On war's red techstone rang true metal, Who ventered life an' love an' youth For the gret prize o' death in battle? To him who, deadly hurt, agen Flashed on afore the charge's thunder, Tippin' with fire the bolt of men That rived the rebel line asunder?"

Charles Sumner, a somewhat heavy person, with little sense of humor, wished that the author of the Biglow Papers "could have used good English." In the lines just quoted, indeed, the bad English adds nothing to the effect. In 1848 Lowell wrote A Fable for Critics, something after the style of Sir John Suckling's Session of the Poets; a piece of rollicking doggerel in which he surveyed the American Parnassus, scattering about headlong fun, sharp satire and sound criticism in equal proportion. Never an industrious workman, like Longfellow, at the poetic craft, but preferring to wait for the mood to seize him, he allowed eighteen years to go by, from 1850 to 1868, before publishing another volume of verse. In the latter year appeared Under the Willows, which contains some of his ripest and most perfect work; notably A Winter Evening Hymn to my Fire, with its noble and touching close—suggested by, perhaps, at any rate recalling, the dedication of Goethe's Faust,

"Ihr naht euch wieder, schwankende Gestalten;"

{501} the subtle Footpath and In the Twilight, the lovely little poems Auf Wiedersehen and After the Funeral, and a number of spirited political pieces, such as Villa Franca, and the Washers of the Shroud. This volume contained also his Ode Recited at the Harvard Commemoration in 1865. This, although uneven, is one of the finest occasional poems in the language, and the most important contribution which our civil war has made to song. It was charged with the grave emotion of one who not only shared the patriotic grief and exultation of his alma mater in the sacrifice of her sons, but who felt a more personal sorrow in the loss of kindred of his own, fallen in the front of battle. Particularly noteworthy in this memorial ode are the tribute to Abraham Lincoln, the third strophe, beginning, "Many loved Truth:" the exordium—"O Beautiful! my Country! ours once more!" and the close of the eighth strophe, where the poet chants of the youthful heroes who

"Come transfigured back, Secure from change in their high-hearted ways, Beautiful evermore and with the rays Of morn on their white Shields of Expectation."

From 1857 to 1862 Lowell edited the Atlantic Monthly, and from 1863 to 1872 the North American Review. His prose, beginning with an early volume of Conversations on Some of the Old Poets, 1844, has consisted mainly of critical essays on individual writers, such as Dante, Chaucer, Spenser, {502} Emerson, Shakespere, Thoreau, Pope, Carlyle, etc., together with papers of a more miscellaneous kind, like Witchcraft, New England Two Centuries Ago, My Garden Acquaintance, A Good Word for Winter, Abraham Lincoln, etc., etc. Two volumes of these were published in 1870 and 1876, under the title Among My Books, and another, My Study Windows, in 1871. As a literary critic Lowell ranks easily among the first of living writers. His scholarship is thorough, his judgment sure, and he pours out upon his page an unwithholding wealth of knowledge, humor, wit and imagination from the fullness of an overflowing mind. His prose has not the chastened correctness and "low tone" of Matthew Arnold's. It is rich, exuberant, and sometimes over fanciful, running away into excesses of allusion or following the lead of a chance pun so as sometimes to lay itself open to the charge of pedantry and bad taste. Lowell's resources in the way of illustration and comparison are endless, and the readiness of his wit and his delight in using it put many temptations in his way. Purists in style accordingly take offense at his saying that "Milton is the only man who ever got much poetry out of a cataract, and that was a cataract in his eye;" or of his speaking of "a gentleman for whom the bottle before him reversed the wonder of the stereoscope and substituted the Gaston v for the b in binocular," which is certainly a puzzling and roundabout fashion of telling us that he had drunk so much {503} that he saw double. The critics also find fault with his coining such words as "undisprivacied" and with his writing such lines as the famous one—from the Cathedral, 1870—

"Spume-sliding down the baffled decuman."

It must be acknowledged that his style lacks the crowning grace of simplicity, but it is precisely by reason of its allusive quality that scholarly readers take pleasure in it. They like a diction that has stuff in it and is woven thick, and where a thing is said in such a way as to recall many other things.

Mention should be made, in connection with this Cambridge circle, of one writer who touched its circumference briefly. This was Sylvester Judd, a graduate of Yale, who entered the Harvard Divinity School in 1837 and in 1840 became minister of a Unitarian church in Augusta, Maine. Judd published several books, but the only one of them at all rememberable was Margaret, 1845, a novel of which Lowell said in A Fable for Critics that it was "the first Yankee book with the soul of Down East in it." It was very imperfect in point of art, and its second part—a rhapsodical description of a sort of Unitarian Utopia—is quite unreadable. But in the delineation of the few chief characters and of the rude, wild life of an outlying New England township just after the close of the revolutionary war, as well as in the tragic power of the catastrophe, there was genius of a high order.


As the country has grown older and more populous, and works in all departments of thought have multiplied, it becomes necessary to draw more strictly the line between the literature of knowledge and the literature of power. Political history, in and of itself, scarcely falls within the limits of this sketch, and yet it cannot be altogether dismissed; for the historian's art at its highest demands imagination, narrative skill, and a sense of unity and proportion in the selection and arrangement of his facts, all of which are literary qualities. It is significant that many of our best historians have begun authorship in the domain of imaginative literature: Bancroft with an early volume of poems; Motley with his historical romances Merry Mount and Morton's Hope; and Parkman with a novel, Vassall Morton. The oldest of that modern group of writers that have given America an honorable position in the historical literature of the world was William Hickling Prescott (1796-1859.) Prescott chose for his theme the history of the Spanish conquests in the New World, a subject full of romantic incident and susceptible of that glowing and perhaps slightly over gorgeous coloring which he laid on with a liberal hand. His completed histories, in their order, are the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, 1837; the Conquest of Mexico, 1843—a topic which Irving had relinquished to him; and the Conquest of Peru, 1847. Prescott was fortunate in being born to leisure and fortune, but he had difficulties of {505} another kind to overcome. He was nearly blind, and had to teach himself Spanish and look up authorities through the help of others and to write with a noctograph or by amanuenses.

George Bancroft (1800- ) issued the first volume of his great History of the United States in 1834, and exactly half a century later the final volume of the work, bringing the subject down to 1789. Bancroft had studied at Goettingen and imbibed from the German historian Heeren the scientific method of historical study. He had access to original sources, in the nature of collections and state papers in the governmental archives of Europe, of which no American had hitherto been able to avail himself. His history in thoroughness of treatment leaves nothing to be desired, and has become the standard authority on the subject. As a literary performance merely, it is somewhat wanting in flavor, Bancroft's manner being heavy and stiff when compared with Motley's or Parkman's. The historian's services to his country have been publicly recognized by his successive appointments as Secretary of the Navy, Minister to England, and Minister to Germany.

The greatest, on the whole, of American historians was John Lothrop Motley (1814-1877), who, like Bancroft, was a student at Goettingen and United States Minister to England. His Rise of the Dutch Republic, 1856, and History of the United Netherlands, published in installments from 1861 to {506} 1868, equaled Bancroft's work in scientific thoroughness and philosophic grasp, and Prescott's in the picturesque brilliancy of the narrative, while it excelled them both in its masterly analysis of great historic characters, reminding the reader, in this particular, of Macaulay's figure painting. The episodes of the siege of Antwerp and the sack of the cathedral, and of the defeat and wreck of the Spanish Armada, are as graphic as Prescott's famous description of Cortez's capture of the city of Mexico; while the elder historian has nothing to compare with Motley's vivid personal sketches of Queen Elizabeth, Philip the Second, Henry of Navarre, and William the Silent. The Life of John of Barneveld, 1874, completed this series of studies upon the history of the Netherlands, a theme to which Motley was attracted because the heroic struggle of the Dutch for liberty offered, in some respects, a parallel to the growth of political independence in Anglo-Saxon communities, and especially in his own America.

The last of these Massachusetts historical writers whom we shall mention is Francis Parkman (1823- ), whose subject has the advantage of being thoroughly American. His Oregon Trail, 1847, a series of sketches of prairie and Rocky Mountain life, originally contributed to the Knickerbocker Magazine, displays his early interest in the American Indians. In 1851 appeared his first historical work, the Conspiracy of Pontiac. This has been followed by the series entitled France and England {507} in North America, the six successive parts of which are as follows: the Pioneers of France in the New World; the Jesuits in North America; La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West; the Old Regime in Canada; Count Frontenac and New France; and Montcalm and Wolfe. These narratives have a wonderful vividness, and a romantic interest not inferior to Cooper's novels. Parkman made himself personally familiar with the scenes which he described, and some of the best descriptions of American woods and waters are to be found in his histories. If any fault is to be found with his books, indeed, it is that their picturesqueness and "fine writing" are a little in excess.

The political literature of the years from 1837 to 1861 hinged upon the antislavery struggle. In this "irrepressible conflict" Massachusetts led the van. Garrison had written in his Liberator, in 1830, "I will be as harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice. I am in earnest; I will not equivocate; I will not excuse; I will not retreat a single inch; and I will be heard." But the Garrisonian abolitionists remained for a long time, even in the North, a small and despised faction. It was a great point gained when men of education and social standing like Wendell Phillips (1811-1884), and Charles Sumner (1811-1874), joined themselves to the cause. Both of these were graduates of Harvard and men of scholarly pursuits. They became the representative orators of the antislavery party, Phillips on the platform {508} and Sumner in the Senate. The former first came before the public in his fiery speech, delivered in Faneuil Hall December 8, 1837, before a meeting called to denounce the murder of Lovejoy, who had been killed at Alton, Ill., while defending his press against a pro-slavery mob. Thenceforth Phillips's voice was never idle in behalf of the slave. His eloquence was impassioned and direct, and his English singularly pure, simple, and nervous. He is perhaps nearer to Demosthenes than any other American orator. He was a most fascinating platform speaker on themes outside of politics, and his lecture on the Lost Arts was a favorite with audiences of all sorts.

Sumner was a man of intellectual tastes, who entered politics reluctantly, and only in obedience to the resistless leading of his conscience. He was a student of literature and art; a connoisseur of engravings, for example, of which he made a valuable collection. He was fond of books, conversation, and foreign travel, and in Europe, while still a young man, had made a remarkable impression in society. But he left all this for public life, and in 1851 was elected, as Webster's successor, to the Senate of the United States. Thereafter he remained the leader of the Abolitionists in Congress until slavery was abolished. His influence throughout the North was greatly increased by the brutal attack upon him in the Senate chamber in 1856 by "Bully Brooks" of South Carolina. {509} Sumner's oratory was stately and somewhat labored. While speaking he always seemed, as has been wittily said, to be surveying a "broad landscape of his own convictions." His most impressive qualities as a speaker were his intense moral earnestness and his thorough knowledge of his subject. The most telling of his parliamentary speeches are perhaps his speech On the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, of February 3, 1854, and On the Crime against Kansas, May 19 and 20, 1856; of his platform addresses, the oration on the True Grandeur of Nations.

1. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Voices of the Night. The Skeleton in Armor. The Wreck of the Hesperus. The Village Blacksmith. The Belfry of Bruges and Other Poems (1846). By the Seaside. Hiawatha. Tales of a Wayside Inn.

2. Oliver Wendell Holmes. Autocrat of the Breakfast Table. Elsie Venner. Old Ironsides. The Last Leaf. My Aunt. The Music-Grinders. On Lending a Punch Bowl. Nux Postcoenatica. A Modest Request. The Living Temple. Meeting of the Alumni of Harvard College. Homesick in Heaven. Epilogue to the Breakfast Table Series. The Boys. Dorothy. The Iron Gate.

3. James Russell Lowell. The Biglow Papers (two series). Under the Willows and Other Poems. 1868. Rhoecus. The Shepherd of King Admetus. The Vision of Sir Launfal. The {510} Present Crisis. The Dandelion. The Birch Tree. Beaver Brook. Essays on Chaucer: Shakspere Once More: Dryden: Emerson; the Lecturer: Thoreau: My Garden Acquaintance: A Good Word for Winter: A Certain Condescension in Foreigners.

4. William Hickling Prescott. The Conquest of Mexico.

5. John Lothrop Motley. The United Netherlands.

6. Francis Parkman. The Oregon Trail. The Jesuits in North America.

7. Representative American Orations; volume v. Edited by Alexander Johnston. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. 1884.





Literature as a profession has hardly existed in the United States until very recently. Even now the number of those who support themselves by purely literary work is small, although the growth of the reading public and the establishment of great magazines, such as Harper's, the Century, and the Atlantic, have made a market for intellectual wares which forty years ago would have seemed a godsend to poorly paid Bohemians like Poe or obscure men of genius like Hawthorne. About 1840 two Philadelphia magazines—Godey's Lady's Book and Graham's Monthly—began to pay their contributors twelve dollars a page, a price then thought wildly munificent. But the first magazine of the modern type was Harper's Monthly, founded in 1850. American books have always suffered, and still continue to suffer, from the want of an international copyright, which has flooded the country with cheap reprints and translations of foreign works, with which the domestic product has been unable to contend on such uneven terms. With the first ocean steamers there {512} started up a class of large-paged weeklies in New York and elsewhere, such as Brother Jonathan, the New World, and the Corsair, which furnished their readers with the freshest writings of Dickens and Bulwer and other British celebrities within a fortnight after their appearance in London. This still further restricted the profits of native authors and nearly drove them from the field of periodical literature. By special arrangement the novels of Thackeray and other English writers were printed in Harper's in installments simultaneously with their issue in English periodicals. The Atlantic was the first of our magazines which was founded expressly for the encouragement of home talent, and which had a purely Yankee flavor. Journalism was the profession which naturally attracted men of letters, as having most in common with their chosen work and as giving them a medium, under their own control, through which they could address the public. A few favored scholars, like Prescott, were made independent by the possession of private fortunes. Others, like Holmes, Longfellow, and Lowell, gave to literature such leisure as they could get in the intervals of an active profession or of college work. Still others, like Emerson and Thoreau, by living in the country and making their modest competence—eked out in Emerson's case by lecturing here and there—suffice for their simple needs, secured themselves freedom from the restraints of any regular calling. But in default of some such pou sto our men of {513} letters have usually sought the cities and allied themselves with the press. It will be remembered that Lowell started a short-lived magazine on his own account, and that he afterward edited the Atlantic and the North American. Also that Ripley and Charles A. Dana betook themselves to journalism after the break up of the Brook Farm Community.

In the same way William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878), the earliest American poet of importance, whose impulses drew him to the solitudes of nature, was compelled to gain a livelihood by conducting a daily newspaper; or, as he himself puts it, was

"Forced to drudge for the dregs of men, And scrawl strange words with the barbarous pen."

Bryant was born at Cummington, in Berkshire, the westernmost county of Massachusetts. After two years in Williams College he studied law, and practiced for nine years as a country lawyer in Plainfield and Great Barrington. Following the line of the Housatonic Valley, the social and theological affiliations of Berkshire have always been closer with Connecticut and New York than with Boston and Eastern Massachusetts. Accordingly, when, in 1825, Bryant yielded to the attractions of a literary career, he betook himself to New York city, where, after a brief experiment in conducting a monthly magazine, the New York Review and Athenaeum, he assumed the editorship of the {514} Evening Post, a Democratic and Free-trade journal, with which he remained connected till his death. He already had a reputation as a poet when he entered the ranks of metropolitan journalism. In 1816 his Thanatopsis had been published in the North American Review, and had attracted immediate and general admiration. It had been finished, indeed, two years before, when the poet was only in his nineteenth year, and was a wonderful instance of precocity. The thought in this stately hymn was not that of a young man, but of a sage who has reflected long upon the universality, the necessity, and the majesty of death. Bryant's blank verse when at its best, as in Thanatopsis and the Forest Hymn, is extremely noble. In gravity and dignity it is surpassed by no English blank verse of this century, though in rich and various modulation it falls below Tennyson's Ulysses and Morte d'Arthur. It was characteristic of Bryant's limitations that he came thus early into possession of his faculty. His range was always a narrow one, and about his poetry, as a whole, there is a certain coldness, rigidity, and solemnity. His fixed position among American poets is described in his own Hymn to the North Star:

"And thou dost see them rise, Star of the pole! and thou dost see them set. Alone, in thy cold skies, Thou keep'st thy old, unmoving station yet, Nor join'st the dances of that glittering train, Nor dipp'st thy virgin orb in the blue western main."


In 1821 he read the Ages, a didactic poem in thirty-five stanzas, before the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Cambridge, and in the same year brought out his first volume of poems. A second collection appeared in 1832, which was printed in London under the auspices of Washington Irving. Bryant was the first American poet who had much of an audience in England, and Wordsworth is said to have learned Thanatopsis by heart. Bryant was, indeed, in a measure, a scholar of Wordsworth's school, and his place among American poets corresponds roughly, though not precisely, to Wordsworth's among English poets. With no humor, with somewhat restricted sympathies, with little flexibility or openness to new impressions, but gifted with a high, austere imagination, Bryant became the meditative poet of nature. His best poems are those in which he draws lessons from nature, or sings of its calming, purifying, and bracing influences upon the human soul. His office, in other words, is the same which Matthew Arnold asserts to be the peculiar office of modern poetry, "the moral interpretation of nature." Poems of this class are Green River, To a Waterfowl, June, the Death of the Flowers, and the Evening Wind. The song, "O fairest of the Rural Maids," which has more fancy than is common in Bryant, and which Poe pronounced his best poem, has an obvious resemblance to Wordsworth's "Three years she grew in sun and shade," and both of these nameless pieces might fitly be {516} entitled—as Wordsworth's is in Mr. Palgrave's Golden Treasury—"The Education of Nature."

Although Bryant's career is identified with New York, his poetry is all of New England. His heart was always turning back fondly to the woods and streams of the Berkshire hills. There was nothing of that urban strain in him which appears in Holmes and Willis. He was, in especial, the poet of autumn, of the American October and the New England Indian Summer, that season of "dropping nuts" and "smoky light," to whose subtle analogy with the decay of the young by the New England disease, consumption, he gave such tender expression in the Death of the Flowers; and amid whose "bright, late quiet," he wished himself to pass away. Bryant is our poet of "the melancholy days," as Lowell is of June. If, by chance, he touches upon June, it is not with the exultant gladness of Lowell in meadows full of bobolinks, and in the summer day that is

"—simply perfect from its own resource As to the bee the new campanula's Illuminate seclusion swung in air."

Rather, the stir of new life in the clod suggests to Bryant by contrast the thought of death; and there is nowhere in his poetry a passage of deeper feeling than the closing stanzas of June, in which he speaks of himself, by anticipation, as of one

"Whose part in all the pomp that fills The circuit of the summer hills Is—that his grave is green."

{517} Bryant is, par excellence, the poet of New England wild flowers, the yellow violet, the fringed gentian—to each of which he dedicated an entire poem—the orchis and the golden rod, "the aster in the wood and the yellow sunflower by the brook." With these his name will be associated as Wordsworth's with the daffodil and the lesser celandine, and Emerson's with the rhodora.

Except when writing of nature he was apt to be commonplace, and there are not many such energetic lines in his purely reflective verse as these famous ones from the Battle Field:

"Truth crushed to earth shall rise again; The eternal years of God are hers; But Error, wounded, writhes in pain, And dies among his worshipers."

He added but slowly to the number of his poems, publishing a new collection in 1840, another in 1844, and Thirty Poems in 1864. His work at all ages was remarkably even. Thanatopsis was as mature as any thing that he wrote afterward, and among his later pieces, the Planting of the Apple Tree and the Flood of Years were as fresh as any thing that he had written in the first flush of youth. Bryant's poetic style was always pure and correct, without any tincture of affectation or extravagance. His prose writings are not important, consisting mainly of papers of the Salmagundi variety contributed to the Talisman, an annual published in 1827-30; some rather sketchy stories, Tales of the {518} Glauber Spa, 1832; and impressions of Europe, entitled, Letters of a Traveler, issued in two series, in 1849 and 1858. In 1869 and 1871 appeared his blank-verse translations of the Iliad and Odyssey, a remarkable achievement for a man of his age, and not excelled, upon the whole, by any recent metrical version of Homer in the English tongue. Bryant's half century of service as the editor of a daily paper should not be overlooked. The Evening Post, under his management, was always honest, gentlemanly, and courageous, and did much to raise the tone of journalism in New York.

Another Massachusetts poet, who was outside the Boston coterie, like Bryant, and, like him, tried his hand at journalism, was John Greenleaf Whittier (1807- ). He was born in a solitary farmhouse near Haverhill, in the valley of the Merrimack, and his life has been passed mostly at his native place and at the neighboring town of Amesbury. The local color, which is very pronounced in his poetry, is that of the Merrimack from the vicinity of Haverhill to its mouth at Newburyport, a region of hillside farms, opening out below into wide marshes—"the low, green prairies of the sea," and the beaches of Hampton and Salisbury. The scenery of the Merrimack is familiar to all readers of Whittier: the cotton-spinning towns along its banks, with their factories and dams, the sloping pastures and orchards of the back country, the sands of Plum Island and the level reaches of water meadow between which glide the broad-sailed "gundalows"—a {519} local corruption of gondola—laden with hay. Whittier was a farmer lad, and had only such education as the district school could supply, supplemented by two years at the Haverhill Academy. In his School Days he gives a picture of the little old country school-house as it used to be, the only alma mater of so many distinguished Americans, and to which many others who have afterward trodden the pavements of great universities look back so fondly as to their first wicket gate into the land of knowledge.

"Still sits the school-house by the road, A ragged beggar sunning; Around it still the sumachs grow And blackberry vines are running.

"Within, the master's desk is seen, Deep-scarred by raps official; The warping floor, the battered seats, The jack-knife's carved initial."

A copy of Burns awoke the slumbering instinct in the young poet, and he began to contribute verses to Garrison's Free Press, published at Newburyport, and to the Haverhill Gazette. Then he went to Boston, and became editor for a short time of the Manufacturer. Next he edited the Essex Gazette, at Haverhill, and in 1830 he took charge of George D. Prentice's paper, the New England Weekly Review, at Hartford, Conn. Here he fell in with a young Connecticut poet of much promise, J. G. C. Brainard, editor of the {520} Connecticut Mirror, whose "Remains" Whittier edited in 1832. At Hartford, too, he published his first book, a volume of prose and verse, entitled Legends of New England, 1831, which is not otherwise remarkable than as showing his early interest in Indian colonial traditions—especially those which had a touch of the supernatural—a mine which he afterward worked to good purpose in the Bridal of Pennacook, the Witch's Daughter, and similar poems. Some of the Legends testify to Brainard's influence and to the influence of Whittier's temporary residence at Hartford. One of the prose pieces, for example, deals with the famous "Moodus Noises" at Haddam, on the Connecticut River, and one of the poems is the same in subject with Brainard's Black Fox of Salmon River. After a year and a half at Hartford, Whittier returned to Haverhill and to farming.

The antislavery agitation was now beginning, and into this he threw himself with all the ardor of his nature. He became the poet of the reform as Garrison was its apostle, and Sumner and Phillips its speakers. In 1833 he published Justice and Expediency, a prose tract against slavery, and in the same year he took part in the formation of the American Antislavery Society at Philadelphia, sitting in the convention as a delegate of the Boston Abolitionists. Whittier was a Quaker, and that denomination, influenced by the preaching of John Woolman and others, had long since quietly abolished slavery within its own communion. The {521} Quakers of Philadelphia and elsewhere took an earnest though peaceful part in the Garrisonian movement. But it was a strange irony of fate that had made the fiery-hearted Whittier a Friend. His poems against slavery and disunion have the martial ring of a Tyrtaeus or a Koerner, added to the stern religious zeal of Cromwell's Ironsides. They are like the sound of the trumpet blown before the walls of Jericho, or the Psalms of David denouncing woe upon the enemies of God's chosen people. If there is any purely Puritan strain in American poetry it is in the war-hymns of the Quaker "Hermit of Amesbury." Of these patriotic poems there were three principal collections: Voices of Freedom, 1849; the Panorama and Other Poems, 1856; and In War Time, 1863; Whittier's work as the poet of freedom was done when, on hearing the bells ring for the passage of the constitutional amendment abolishing slavery, he wrote his splendid Laus Deo, thrilling with the ancient Hebrew spirit:

"Loud and long Lift the old exulting song, Sing with Miriam by the sea— He has cast the mighty down, Horse and rider sink and drown, He hath triumphed gloriously."

Of his poems distinctly relating to the events of the civil war, the best, or at all events the most popular, is Barbara Frietchie. Ichabod, expressing the indignation of the Free Soilers at Daniel Webster's seventh of March speech in defense of the {522} Fugitive Slave Law, is one of Whittier's best political poems, and not altogether unworthy of comparison with Browning's Lost Leader. The language of Whittier's warlike lyrics is biblical, and many of his purely devotional pieces are religious poetry of a high order and have been included in numerous collections of hymns. Of his songs of faith and doubt, the best are perhaps Our Master, Chapel of the Hermits, and Eternal Goodness; one stanza from the last of which is familiar:

"I know not where His islands lift Their fronded palms in air, I only know I cannot drift Beyond His love and care."

But from politics and war Whittier turned gladly to sing the homely life of the New England country side. His rural ballads and idyls are as genuinely American as any thing that our poets have written, and have been recommended, as such, to English working-men by Whittier's co-religionist, John Bright. The most popular of these is probably Maud Muller, whose closing couplet has passed into proverb. Skipper Ireson's Ride is also very current. Better than either of them, as poetry, is Telling the Bees. But Whittier's masterpiece in work of a descriptive and reminiscent kind is Snow Bound, 1866, a New England fireside idyl which in its truthfulness recalls the Winter Evening of Cowper's Task and Burns's Cotter's Saturday Night, but in sweetness and animation is superior to either of them. Although in {523} some things a Puritan of the Puritans, Whittier has never forgotten that he is also a Friend, and several of his ballads and songs have been upon the subject of the early Quaker persecutions in Massachusetts. The most impressive of these is Cassandra Southwick. The latest of them, the King's Missive, originally contributed to the Memorial History of Boston in 1880, and reprinted the next year in a volume with other poems, has been the occasion of a rather lively controversy. The Bridal of Pennacook, 1848, and the Tent on the Beach, 1867, which contain some of his best work, were series of ballads told by different narrators, after the fashion of Longfellow's Tales of a Wayside Inn. As an artist in verse Whittier is strong and fervid, rather than delicate or rich. He uses only a few metrical forms—by preference the eight-syllabled rhyming couplet

—"Maud Muller on a summer's day Raked the meadow sweet with hay," etc.—

and the emphatic tramp of this measure becomes very monotonous, as do some of Whittier's mannerisms; which proceed, however, never from affectation, but from a lack of study and variety, and so, no doubt, in part from the want of that academic culture and thorough technical equipment which Lowell and Longfellow enjoyed. Though his poems are not in dialect, like Lowell's Biglow Papers, he knows how to make an artistic use of homely provincial words, such as "chore," {524} which give his idyls of the hearth and the barnyard a genuine Doric cast. Whittier's prose is inferior to his verse. The fluency which was a besetting sin of his poetry when released from the fetters of rhyme and meter ran into wordiness. His prose writings were partly contributions to the slavery controversy, partly biographical sketches of English and American reformers, and partly studies of the scenery and folk-lore of the Merrimack Valley. Those of most literary interest were the Supernaturalism of New England, 1847, and some of the papers in Literary Recreations and Miscellanies, 1854.

While Massachusetts was creating an American literature, other sections of the Union were by no means idle. The West, indeed, was as yet too raw to add any thing of importance to the artistic product of the country. The South was hampered by circumstances which will presently be described. But in and about the seaboard cities of New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Richmond, many pens were busy filling the columns of literary weeklies and monthlies; and there was a considerable output, such as it was, of books of poetry, fiction, travel, and miscellaneous light literature. Time has already relegated most of these to the dusty top-shelves. To rehearse the names of the numerous contributors to the old Knickerbocker Magazine, to Godey's, and Graham's, and the New Mirror, and the Southern Literary Messenger, or to run over the list of authorlings and poetasters in Poe's papers on {525} the Literati of New York, would be very much like reading the inscriptions on the head-stones of an old grave-yard. In the columns of these prehistoric magazines and in the book notices and reviews away back in the thirties and forties, one encounters the handiwork and the names of Emerson, Holmes, Longfellow, Hawthorne, and Lowell, embodied in this mass of forgotten literature. It would have required a good deal of critical acumen, at the time, to predict that these and a few others would soon be thrown out into bold relief, as the significant and permanent names in the literature of their generation, while Paulding, Hirst, Fay, Dawes, Mrs. Osgood, and scores of others who figured beside them in the fashionable periodicals, and filled quite as large a space in the public eye, would sink into oblivion in less than thirty years. Some of these latter were clever enough people; they entertained their contemporary public sufficiently, but their work had no vitality or "power of continuance." The great majority of the writings of any period are necessarily ephemeral, and time by a slow process of natural selection is constantly sifting out the few representative books which shall carry on the memory of the period to posterity. Now and then it may be predicted of some undoubted work of genius, even at the moment that it sees the light, that it is destined to endure. But tastes and fashions change, and few things are better calculated to inspire the literary critic with humility than to read {526} the prophecies in old reviews and see how the future, now become the present, has quietly given them the lie.

From among the professional litterateurs of his day emerges, with ever sharper distinctness as time goes on, the name of Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849.) By the irony of fate Poe was born at Boston, and his first volume, Tamerlane and Other Poems, 1827, was printed in that city and bore upon its title page the words, "By a Bostonian." But his parentage, so far as it was any thing, was southern. His father was a Marylander who had gone upon the stage and married an actress, herself the daughter of an actress and a native of England. Left an orphan by the early death of both parents, Poe was adopted by a Mr. Allan, a wealthy merchant of Richmond, Va. He was educated partly at an English school, was student for a time in the University of Virginia and afterward a cadet in the Military Academy at West Point. His youth was wild and irregular: he gambled and drank, was proud, bitter and perverse; finally quarreled with his guardian and adopted father—by whom he was disowned—and then betook himself to the life of a literary hack. His brilliant but underpaid work for various periodicals soon brought him into notice, and he was given the editorship of the Southern Literary Messenger, published at Richmond, and subsequently of the Gentlemen's—afterward Graham'sMagazine in Philadelphia. These and all other positions Poe forfeited through his {527} dissipated habits and wayward temper, and finally, in 1844, he drifted to New York, where he found employment on the Evening Mirror and then on the Broadway Journal. He died of delirium tremens at the Marine Hospital in Baltimore. His life was one of the most wretched in literary history. He was an extreme instance of what used to be called the "eccentricity of genius." He had the irritable vanity which is popularly supposed to accompany the poetic temperament, and was so insanely egotistic as to imagine that Longfellow and others were constantly plagiarizing from him. The best side of Poe's character came out in his domestic relations, in which he displayed great tenderness, patience and fidelity. His instincts were gentlemanly, and his manner and conversation were often winning. In the place of moral feeling he had the artistic conscience. In his critical papers, except where warped by passion or prejudice, he showed neither fear nor favor, denouncing bad work by the most illustrious hands and commending obscure merit. The "impudent literary cliques" who puffed each other's books; the feeble chirrupings of the bardlings who manufactured verses for the "Annuals;" and the twaddle of the "genial" incapables who praised them in flabby reviews—all these Poe exposed with ferocious honesty. Nor, though his writings are unmoral, can they be called in any sense immoral. His poetry is as pure in its unearthliness as Bryant's in its austerity.


By 1831 Poe had published three thin books of verse, none of which had attracted notice, although the latest contained the drafts of a few of his most perfect poems, such as Israfel, the Valley of Unrest, the City in the Sea, and one of the two pieces inscribed To Helen. It was his habit to touch and retouch his work until it grew under his more practiced hand into a shape that satisfied his fastidious taste. Hence the same poem frequently reappears in different stages of development in successive editions. Poe was a subtle artist in the realm of the weird and the fantastic. In his intellectual nature there was a strange conjunction; an imagination as spiritual as Shelley's, though, unlike Shelley's, haunted perpetually with shapes of fear and the imagery of ruin; with this, an analytic power, a scientific exactness, and a mechanical ingenuity more usual in a chemist or a mathematician than in a poet. He studied carefully the mechanism of his verse and experimented endlessly with verbal and musical effects, such as repetition, and monotone, and the selection of words in which the consonants alliterated and the vowels varied. In his Philosophy of Composition he described how his best known poem, the Raven, was systematically built up on a preconceived plan in which the number of lines was first determined and the word "nevermore" selected as a starting point. No one who knows the mood in which poetry is composed will believe that this ingenious piece of dissection really describes the way in {529} which the Raven was conceived and written, or that any such deliberate and self-conscious process could originate the associations from which a true poem springs. But it flattered Poe's pride of intellect to assert that his cooler reason had control not only over the execution of his poetry, but over the very well-head of thought and emotion. Some of his most successful stories, like the Gold Bug, the Mystery of Marie Roget, the Purloined Letter, and the Murders in the Rue Morgue, were applications of this analytic faculty to the solution of puzzles, such as the finding of buried treasure or of a lost document, or the ferreting out of a mysterious crime. After the publication of the Gold Bug he received from all parts of the country specimens of cipher writing, which he delighted to work out. Others of his tales were clever pieces of mystification, like Hans Pfaall, the story of a journey to the moon, or experiments at giving verisimilitude to wild improbabilities by the skillful introduction of scientific details, as in the Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar and Von Kempelen's Discovery. In his narratives of this kind Poe anticipated the detective novels of Gaboriau and Wilkie Collins, the scientific hoaxes of Jules Verne, and, though in a less degree, the artfully worked up likeness to fact in Edward Everett Hale's Man Without a Country, and similar fictions. While Dickens's Barnaby Rudge was publishing in parts, Poe showed his skill as a plot hunter by publishing a paper in Graham's Magazine in which the very {530} tangled intrigue of the novel was correctly raveled and the finale predicted in advance.

In his union of imagination and analytic power Poe resembled Coleridge, who, if any one, was his teacher in poetry and criticism. Poe's verse often reminds one of Christabel and the Ancient Mariner, still oftener of Kubla Khan. Like Coleridge, too, he indulged at times in the opium habit. But in Poe the artist predominated over every thing else. He began not with sentiment or thought, but with technique, with melody and color, tricks of language, and effects of verse. It is curious to study the growth of his style in his successive volumes of poetry. At first these are metrical experiments and vague images, original, and with a fascinating suggestiveness, but with so little meaning that some of his earlier pieces are hardly removed from nonsense. Gradually, like distant music drawing nearer and nearer, his poetry becomes fuller of imagination and of an inward significance, without ever losing, however, its mysterious aloofness from the real world of the senses. It was a part of Poe's literary creed—formed upon his own practice and his own limitations, but set forth with a great display of a priori reasoning in his essay on the Poetic Principle and elsewhere—that pleasure and not instruction or moral exhortation was the end of poetry; that beauty and not truth or goodness was its means; and, furthermore, that the pleasure which it gave should be indefinite. About his own poetry there was always this {531} indefiniteness. His imagination dwelt in a strange country of dream—a "ghoul-haunted region of Weir," "out of space, out of time"—filled with unsubstantial landscapes, and peopled by spectral shapes. And yet there is a wonderful, hidden significance in this uncanny scenery. The reader feels that the wild, fantasmal imagery is in itself a kind of language, and that it in some way expresses a brooding thought or passion, the terror and despair of a lost soul. Sometimes there is an obvious allegory, as in the Haunted Palace, which is the parable of a ruined mind, or in the Raven, the most popular of all Poe's poems, originally published in the American Whig Review for February, 1845. Sometimes the meaning is more obscure, as in Ulalume, which, to most people, is quite incomprehensible, and yet to all readers of poetic feeling is among the most characteristic, and, therefore, the most fascinating, of its author's creations.

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